Tuesday, May 31, 2011

kochin haneefa

Adieu, Kochin Haneefa

C S Venkiteswaran

The departure of Kochin Haneefa is like the sudden and unexpected exit of a character in the middle of a play. He was at his prime and in the middle of so many things. As a noted actor, director, scenarist and producer, he was very active both in Malayalam and Tamil for more than three decades. In his own words, “I played several roles in life: actor, writer, scenarist, director and politician. But I loved acting above all. I appear before you, changing through time and your tastes. And, upon seeing me, if your mind is aroused and whispers ‘Kochin Haneefa’, my life is fulfilled.” He was also one of those rare artists from Kerala who made a mark in the South Indian film industry.

Salim Ahmed Ghoush alias Kochin Haneefa was many things at the same time. Though he was one of the first products of Kalabhavan to enter films, his acting was not defined by ‘mimicry’ style. He entered films playing villain roles, but ended up as a comedian. And even when he shifted to comedy in Malayalam, he was an acclaimed villain in Tamil films. Till the end, he went on producing, writing and directing, not comedies, but films dealing with serious issues, social and familial.

Even as a college student, Haneefa had made his mark as an actor, and like many others he too was lured by cinema and went to Madras to pursue his dreams. He yearned to be an actor and did manage to get some minor roles, but he was more successful in script writing, something he literally stumbled upon. His acting debut was in Azhimukham in 1972 as a boatman, followed by a handful of films in the 70’s. He couldn’t find a niche for himself in that period and had to be satisfied with supportive roles. The first break came for him when he became a script writer of Aval oru Devalayam, which starred major actors. He went on to write Irumpazhikal (a remake of Sholay), Raju Rahim, Adimachangala etc. followed by commercial successes like Kadathanadan Ambadi, Lal Americayil, Inakkili and Puthiya Karukkal. Meanwhile he continued to appear in villain roles. The second turning point in his career was Kireedom (Siby Malayil, 1989) in which he played the role of a village ruffian, who is a coward. This role that combined the villain and comedian, in a way encapsulates his career till then and also of his future fame. One can never forget the hilarious characters in films like Punjabi House, Narendran Makan Jayakantan Vaka, CID Moosa, Meesa Madhavan, Thilakkam, Mannar Mathai Speaking, Harikrishnans, Friends, Suthradaran, Ee Parkkum Thalika, Sundarapurushan, Kunjikoonan, Swapnakkoodu, Pulivalkalyanam, CI Mahadevan 5’ 4”, Chathikatha Chanthu and Udayananu Tharam.. He was a noted actor in Tamil also, with films like Annyan, Pattayan, Mahanadi, and most recently Vettaikaran. In Mahanadi he plays a crafty villain who traumatizes the life of the hero (Kamal Haasan). He was at ease with both the film worlds and loved to switch roles, languages and styles. Like many actors of his kind, who constitute the magic of cinema but are not rewarded by recognitions, Haneefa too had to satisfy with public adulation rather than official recognition. The only state award that came his way was as Second Best Actor for his performance in Soothradharan in 2001.

His directorial ventures in Malayalam include Bheesmacharya (1994), Valtsalyam (1993), Veena Meettiya Vilangukal (1990), Aankiliyude Tharattu (1987) Oru Sindoora Pottinte Ormaykku (1987),Moonnu Masangalkku Munpu (1986) and Oru Sandesam Koodi (1985). Most of these films did well at the box office and dealt with social and emotional issues.

Though his acting career spanned more than three decades from Azhimukhan (1972) to Bodyguard (2010), and he made notable contributions in various fields, what made him a popular figure were his comic roles. In comedy, he was able to create a style of his own. His acting was situational rather than something that emerged from himself through mere idiosyncrasies or dialogues. It had more to do with the dynamics between his body and the context in which it found itself. For instance, like many of his contemporaries and competitors, his comic identity is not fixed onto or one arising out of his regional slang or mannerisms. It was his body as a whole that was at the centre: one that stands out, never accommodated by the ‘normal’/normative system that envelops it. Haneefa character is always a ‘misfit’ and the comedy arises out the mismatch between body and mind, appearance and reality, words and deeds, status and ability. For instance, in several films, he plays the role of a police officer, but he is invariably a coward, a stooge or corrupt to the core. In Kaliveedu, he is a psychiatrist, who hypnotizes people, but in the end he himself falls prey to a smarter woman, who becomes his wife. In Oravadhikalathu, he is a physical trainer, but has to send letters addressed to himself to prove his worth. In Swapnakoodu, though he is a distant relative of the hapless family that includes two beautiful girls, in the end we find him trying to sell them off in the flesh market. In films like Punjabi House, Pulivalkalyanam, Narendran makan Jayakantan vaka etc, he plays hilarious roles where humour arises out of a body that is out of place, one that can’t neither flaunt nor hide itself from public gaze. In film after film, he celebrated this state of being that is always caught between the rhetoric heroism on the one side, and the sheer necessity to survive on the other. Like any comedian, his roles stand apart and above the narrative, never seeking closures and finales but always bursting forth with mirth and laughter in the present. These comic characters had no axe to grind or point to prove, they were neither nostalgic about the past nor worried about future goals, but always lived here and now to light up our lives in unexpected and uncanny ways.

One of his most striking his qualities was that he knew his role really well; small or big, central or marginal, he always played it to the hilt and with total commitment. Most importantly, never in his life, art or career was he parochial or partisan in any way, the reason why he was dear to all. The Malayalam film industry will surely miss him very badly, especially in times like these when any sense of camaraderie is sorely lacking.

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